Saturday, January 5, 2008

Why are food bank donations down?

The Gleaner’s Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan reported a 35% decline in overall donations in 2007. In Washington, DC last month, the Capital Area Food bank supplies were down 60% compared to a year ago. The story is the same everywhere, including my local Niles Food Pantry: Less available food at food pantries. Images of empty shelves at food banks are evidence of what we don’t see…empty refrigerators and empty bellies. In a land of plenty, why is this happening? Here are 5 reasons why donations have dramatically declined:

1. Increase in demand: America’s Second Harvest’s member food pantries have seen demand increases nationwide, sometimes as high as 20%.
2. Strong farm economy: Drought and strong international markets reduced food surplus for the government to buy cheaply. This was great for farmers, but bad for a system reliant upon bonus commodities to feed the hungry. In five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture steadily decreased its purchase of surplus food from $200 million to an estimated $58million.
3. Fewer damaged goods from manufacturers: Increased efficiency conserves money and resources. Yet salvage products, edible food in damaged packaging, are a significant source of donations. At the Greater Chicago Food Depository, these contributions have fallen by 42% since 2004.
4. Decrease in grocery store donations: Better controls over store-ordering procedures reduce overstock and donations. Supermarket chain consolidation also decreases giving opportunities.
5. Inflation: Support for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is re-authorized only every five years. $140 million todays doesn’t buy as much as it did in 2002.

The accumulated effects of these trends are devastating to thousands of individuals and families. So the question remains: ‘What can we do?’
- Pass a strong nutrition title in the U.S. Farm Bill. Congress can increase support for TEFAP and the Food Stamp Program.
- Develop community hunger relief projects: City wide programs like Chicago’s “One City, One Food Drive” promote awareness while making it easy for everyone to participate. Any community group can hold a food drive.
- Make personal donations: Local food banks or America’s Second Harvest can make your money go further than your food donations. They buy more food per dollar than individuals and know the needs of their patrons.
- Increase corporate giving: Businesses can make financial or in-kind donations. More food manufacturers can donate salvage products. Restaurants, grocery stores, and caterers can participate in food rescue programs, which re-distribute perishable and prepared foods.

The desperation felt by someone turned away empty-handed from a food pantry is hard to fathom in the midst of abundance. Yet it is a growing reality. The good news is that this problem can be overcome. With even modest acts of compassion and political action we can move nourishing food to food bank shelves and then into homes where it belongs.


Jessica Bennett said...

Thanks for your valuable blogging on this all-too-often overlooked social issue.

Mark Winne, who spent 25 years working in the Hartford, Conn, food bank system posts today at Beacon Broadside about the growing problem of poverty and how little we seem to be doing to address it.

I hope you'll come by and check it out.


Jessica Bennett
Blog Editor, Beacon Broadside

CCYL said...

Thanks! That was a very nice piece. Glad to read more about the subject as well as learn more about Mark Winne.

Anonymous said...

Hi, there, and thanks for all you do in bringing awareness to poverty issues. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is pushing hard for a comprehensive economic recovery plan that will meet the needs of the neediest among us. Today, our communications director, Sean, posted about the importance of including hunger provisions in any recovery package. Hope you'll check us out, too!

Kate at The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism